At any age, making friends is not easy. We all want to fit in and have someone to talk to when we need it, but finding “our people” can be quite the task. When we find them though, it is the best feeling in the world. FINALLY, there is someone out there that feels like we do in this crazy world. But sometimes, those friends we thought we had actually turn out to be terrible for us.

We often don’t see this coming. At first, they seem so nice, and we get along with them great. We have so many things in common that we start spending so much time together. Then, they slowly start taking up all of our time and energy. They may call us in the middle of the day asking if we can see them because they are having a rough day. This is not out of the norm for friends to do, but when they start asking you to run errands for them and to be at their beck and call every day, red flags start going up.

This is what I like to call a toxic friend. They take advantage of you to the point where you feel like you do not have a life of your own and have to take care of them all the time. And if you are in your twenties like me, this is the absolute last place you want to be.

I found myself in this situation last year shortly after moving to New York. I had a small group of friends here already who made it their mission to show me the city and make sure I didn’t get swallowed up in the hustle and bustle. One person in this group in particular took an interest to me, which I did not mind at all. He started asking me over to his apartment all the time just to hang out, and as someone who didn’t have much else to do at the time, I didn’t turn him down. But soon, he would call me crying that he had had a horrible day and always asked if I could come over. I don’t know why I did, maybe I thought he needed someone, but I went every time.

This went on for the next eight months where every week, it was a new problem. There was the time that he broke down after not getting a part in a show and needed me to come be his emotional support system. There was the time the person he was interested in did not reciprocate his feelings, and he called me bawling his eyes out at 9 p.m. asking if I could make the two-hour train ride to comfort him. And then there was that one time he got so drunk at a party that he couldn’t make it home, so he showed up at my door at 1 a.m. I thought he was one of my best friends, but he was actually just flat out using me so he didn’t have to deal with his life.

I look back on it now, and I see how he took advantage of me. I was new here, so he saw someone who didn’t know that he has done this to so many people, and chose me to be his new sidekick. In the beginning, it was fun because I had someone to do things with and we would go to dinner and hit the town on Friday nights. But once the errands and the constant emotional breakdowns started, I knew something was not right.

I must admit too that I have always been the one to help my friends out in any situation. My nickname in college was even “Mom” because I literally took care of everyone. He saw right through that and used it to serve himself. I can blame myself now, but it was also a very good learning experience.

I eventually saw the light and realized that not only was he not one of my best friends, he also had bigger issues than I knew how to deal with. I cared for him so much, but I had had enough of being his gopher, the fixer, and his emotional support. I stopped texting him and asking to hang out, and slowly but surely, I didn’t hear from him as much. I soon found myself saying when I didn’t get panicked texts from him, “Good, no one needs me tonight,” which was a relief. It also helped that he landed an out-of-town job that required him to be away from New York for six months, which to me, felt like a vacation!

We really did not talk while he was away and I have only seen him once since he’s been back. I still care about him, but my priorities have changed so much since last year that I cannot put myself in that same situation again. Those months of helping him felt like falling down the rabbit hole to Wonderland and I really do not want to ever find myself there again.

So, after I got rid of my toxic friendship, I was left with a very valuable lesson: not everyone is as they seem. When I met this guy, he was all smiles and happy. It wasn’t until later that the smiles revealed just how much of an emotional wreck he was. Because of this, I can pick out the warning signs now of someone who is faking their whole persona; it is actually really easy to do. And the biggest lesson of all was: find genuine friends to surround yourself with.

Yes, going out on Friday nights until 3 a.m. is fun for a while, but that is not a friendship. Those people will not be there for you through the bigger moments in life when you need help. Find the friends who will laugh and cry with you, not make you do things for them. And also, be sure to find people who make you happy because being happy is the surest sign of a true friend and the best medicine there is.